Can you provide a brief overview of 3D-P?
3D-P is a Canadian-based wireless technology integrator which focuses primarily on mining. We have a three-tiered approach to the market. First, we are a radio-agonistic wireless integrator; our focus is to find the right solution for each mine, and this may include elements from multiple different wireless OEMs - LTE, WiFi, or WiFi Mesh, or a combination of the above. Second, we manufacture some of the hardware. We found that much of the off-the-shelf hardware available in the market is not rugged enough to survive in a mining environment, so we can design our own and reduce technology clutter by combining several technological components into a single box. Finally, our software engineering team writes software than runs specifically on each box, facilitating deployment and installation.
3D-P was recently acquired by Epiroc. What synergies have been created between both companies?
As Epiroc moves into the realm of autonomy and remote controls, one of their biggest challenges is related to wireless networking. Most of the mines that Epiroc is selling autonomous or remote solutions to already have some type of wireless network. However, when we deploy the autonomous drill system, the existing network is not capable of supporting it. Our expertise allows us to figure out exactly what needs to be done to augment that existing network or to deploy a specific network for the autonomous drills to make them work properly in the mine.
Simultaneously, Epiroc can greatly expand our geographical footprint. When we were acquired, we were a relatively small company with around 60 employees, with limited capacity to find new customers around the world. Now, we are able to leverage Epiroc’s global network, while still running as a separate entity and providing the same services and solutions that we always have.
Could you tell us about a particular case study that reflects how 3D-P can add value to mining clients?
We completed a project for a large copper mine which was looking for their next wireless technology because the old was ready to be replaced. By discussing their needs with them, we found that the mine’s requirements varied across different departments. For instance, the IT department required an upgraded wireless network, with complete infrastructure and on-board radio upgrades, while the maintenance department needed an on-board datalogger.
Since we build our own hardware, we were able to bring both requirements and budgets together into a single box that would solve both their problems. Ultimately, we removed five different independent boxes and put them all together in a single platform, eliminating their technology clutter. This reduced drastically the cost of the hardware and the cost of installation, as well as the installation downtime by approximately one quarter.
How have you seen the demand trends for your technologies evolve in recent years?
In Australia, LTE has been a big part of the wireless solution in mining for 5-7 years, because they have spectrum available for the mines to use. In the US, that spectrum traditionally has not been available because it is exclusively used for consumer devices such as cellphones. So, we have been focusing on solving the challenges that come with the LTE deployments primarily in Australia, as far as the ruggedization and communication enhancements that can happen just from using the proper clients on an LTE network. For example, we found that when a piece of mining equipment is up against the working face or behind the shovel in a mine, even on LTE network which works fantastically, they will still get shadowed sometimes and drop packets. We were able to build a custom product to solve that problem by creating a Mesh for that client and making sure they can always get their packets out.
That application is now being provided in the North American market as the LTE spectrum is becoming available. More and more customers are becoming interested in what LTE can bring, and where there is spectrum available, we are able to help them take advantage of it because we have the right solutions that have been developed elsewhere. We are also observing that smaller mines and quarries are increasingly seeing the benefits of applying new technologies, namely increased productivity, and safety.